How Caregiving Taught Me the Need to Plan for Aging
You may have taken care of an older relative in the past, but odds are, you’re a caregiver right now. If that’s the case, I say, “Good on you, and congratulations for stepping up.”
There are many people, especially women, who find themselves helping older loved ones. Sometimes, it’s expected of us, and other times, our hearts are just made that way.
I’ve been there. It’s now 12 years since my father died, and 16 since Mother passed. Today, I deal with a few issues I helped them address. But I feel much more prepared than they did.
Growing older was simply accepted back when my relatives were 60-ish. They didn’t feel the need or urgency to prepare for it. It was part of life. However, they did save money, prepared legal docs, and set-up their funeral. The rest of their planning was put on the offspring.
Caregiving Costs Us
I moved back from San Diego to Texas to help. My sister took early retirement.
It’s the same story we hear about every day; the one caregivers face when stepping up to elder care realities:
- “I gave up a six-figure annual salary to keep my father out of a nursing home.”
- I retired early from my academic position to move to another city and take care of my dad.”
- “I deferred retirement to maintain the 6-figure income to cover my mother’s assisted living or nursing home expenses, when unable to care for her at home.”
- “I retired to give my mom 24/7 care. While we were able to cover the expenses without any real issues, the cost to me was in personal and social life.”
Many family caregivers understand the heavy costs of growing older. We often face aging alone without support and know preparation for our older years is significant. No wonder we often raise the question, “What will become of me?”
Caregiving Is a Hard Job
Caregiving is hard. Period. No ifs, buts, or maybes about it. Do you agree? However, looking on the bright side, elder care is a prominent teacher! It taught me about my own future and how to prepare for it. That’s how I see the lessons of family care.
It gives clear warnings and what’s to be expected in a decade or more down the road. For that, I’m ever grateful.
Looking back, I realize the time after my father passed jolted me into reality. I clearly remember thinking, “Holey moley, who’s going to do all that for me?”
Aging Alone Can Be Frightening and Dangerous
The areas I deeply pondered were:
- Social connections and support
- Fitness and health
- Local area
And not in that order. Housing came first since I lived in a two-story home in a small town, where a car was an absolute requirement.
A thought kept nagging me for some time: “Carol, how long will you be able to climb these stairs, and to drive? How large is your social support system? And are you truly content here?”
Then, also, a member of a group I manage had a frightening experience that served as a loud reminder. She shared her story:
The other week, I became sick, nauseous, and dizzy from vertigo. Normally, it would not have bothered me but now that I’m older, it created a panic causing my aloneness to consume me. I really didn’t want someone to take care of me but wished someone would just check in on me.
A phone call would have been welcomed. I was in no condition to drive and suddenly realized if I needed to go to the emergency room, I was up a creek. I live in my own house and have neighbors I don’t really know. I have no family, kids, or siblings. I felt helpless and vulnerable; again, not my usual style.
What’s a person to do when alone with no nearby help? It’s a question that I hear frequently. If you’re in that situation, prepare right now. For without a plan, you may be stumped.
It Takes Careful Planning
If you’re aging alone, always check with your doctor – she may steer you in a good direction. If you’re lonely and have no one to call or to check in on you, call the Area Agency on Aging. The department on aging may refer you to local support.
Know that faith organizations are creating programs to assist people like us. If you’re not currently a member, consider finding a faith or service organization that aligns with your values and principles. It may be a senior club that’s a good fit.
I can’t stress enough the importance of social connections when aging alone. However you do it, the point is, get connected and stay that way. It takes effort, but the time you put in is well worth it.
It’s my hope that women engage with one another and form local groups that meet, have fun, and have conversations about how to stay strong, safe, and independent for as long as they are able. We’ve got to have each other’s back because it’s too hard to do it alone.
If interested, download my free Aging 101 Starter Kit. It will help you quickly assess where you are today as well as offer reminders you need to consider when on the road to tackling the five challenges of aging.
Where you are today in the process of growing older? Have you thought about it? How will that serve you 10, 15, or 20 years from now? Do you feel well prepared? Let’s have a conversation!